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Ralph Stanley & Friends
Clinch Mountain Country,  Rebel CDx2 5001, 1998

 Bluegrass master does the duet thing

Listening to Ralph Stanley is like staring directly into the soul of man: powerfully transcendent and awe-inspiring. High lonesome, high quality music are synonymous with his name. On Stanley’s latest, "Clinch Mountain Country," the bluegrass legend enlists the aid of many of his friends for a double-disc, thirty-six-song celebration that sounds effortless and ethereal, winsome and wonderful.

Drawing primarily from the Stanley Brothers’ rich catalog, "Clinch Mountain Country" plays like a classic-strewn retrospective. Songs such as "Pretty Polly," performed beautifully with Kentuckian Patty Loveless, and "I’ll Take The Blame," with Rhonda Vincent, hearken to a time when mellifluous harmonies and timeless tales of love were the norm. They still are for Stanley.

Still full of voice, seventy-one-year-old Stanley more than holds his own alongside superstars such as Vince Gill and former Clinch Mountain Boy Ricky Skaggs. His performance with George Jones on the country legend’s "The Window Up Above" proves him on par with the man widely regarded as country’s greatest vocalist. Pairings with country’s Joe Diffie ("Another Night"), John Anderson ("I Only Exist") and Marty Stuart ("She’s More To Be Pitied") exhibit the expansive influence his music has had, while also demonstrating its timeless nature. Good songs simply never go out of vogue.

Two duets with Dwight Yoakam, the knee-slapping "I Just Got Wise" and the cold hard gospel fact of "The Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn," further present the breadth of Stanley’s music. Equally comfortable with old-time mountain tunes and Sunday school paeans, Stanley’s emotive voice has the charm of realism and the blessing of authenticity whatever the song. Given this, during his recitation on "How Can We Thank Him For What He Has Done" (with Diamond Rio), there is no doubt left within the listener that what he says is not true. In that, Stanley surpasses the best of preachers and the finest of singers.

Bob Dylan, who duets with Stanley on "The Lonesome River," called his participation "the highlight of my career." High praise from the legendary folk/rock star. Dylan’s craggy emotive voice proves an ideal match for Stanley. As he enthusiastically plays rhythm guitar, Dylan wholeheartedly croons the lead vocal as well as anyone has done.

Stanley’s band, The Clinch Mountain Boys, provide much of the instrumentation. His son, Ralph Stanley II, chimes in vocally for two songs, "Thy Burdens Are Greater Than Mine" and "Lonesome Banjo Man," one of the last songs written by his late brother Carter.

Ralph Stanley sounds like someone who’s leaped from the clouds, a heavenly constellation sent to grace us all with his unearthly talent. His music, salve for the soul, hearty and fulfilling, joyfully replenishing and wholesome, is like a gift from God to us all.– Tom Netherland

of related interest

A fine portrait of Ralph Stanley, and other honest country artists, can be found in Nicholas Dawidoff’s excellent book,  In the Country of Country, published in 1997 by Vintage Books. Highly recommended.

Copyright © 1998 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.